I'd be doing this book a disservice to say that it's about one man being divided but from that standpoint, Viet Thanh Nguyen is able to look at what iI'd be doing this book a disservice to say that it's about one man being divided but from that standpoint, Viet Thanh Nguyen is able to look at what it means to be culturally divided, politically divided, divided in your own country / from your own country / from your new country, and the extent to which you can or cannot be divided from your past no matter what boundaries you build in your mind. Using the Vietnam war and the aftermath of the war allows Viet Thanh Nguyen to place that story in a context that is immediately recognizable, in no small part from the films that he pulls apart here as well.
I read an interview with Viet Thanh Nguyen in which he talked about bringing an Asian American perspective into popular literature that he just didn't see present, the "writing to the sidelines" described in his send-up of Apocalypse Now - but if you read that and think "oh, this will be stereotypes inverted," stop that vein of thought - it's very much a book about the human condition, with the emphasis on a particular set of humans you might not have known about. In other words, Viet Thanh Nguyen is saying something expansive in his focus on the specific.
If it weren't already obvious, I thought this was a fantastic book. In some ways, it reminded me of A Bend in the River, by VS Naipaul, for the main character traversing the changes of the Cold War - but in a much faster, more active, more technicolor narrative pace. ...more
It's hard for me to understand the rootedness of the author's life in a tradition of centuries that continues essentially "just because," but I foundIt's hard for me to understand the rootedness of the author's life in a tradition of centuries that continues essentially "just because," but I found it fascinating nevertheless... it's almost as if he is the ultimate "participant observer" who is outside not the culture he describes but an outsider in the academic tradition that allows him to place his work and world in a broader historical context.
From a tone standpoint, he's very much in the tradition of being balanced by the chips on both of his shoulders - it's interesting that he doesn't get rejected by his friends and family, so spends most of his time continuing to be on guard against the patronizing outsiders whose training gives him some of the means to keep on training. Funny, because those outsiders are all raving about how authentic his voice is.
I'd be fascinated to read another book by him - he alludes to the value of traditional farming in Norway and China, in locations he's visited with his work with UNESCO, and plainly believes that those methods will see people through whatever changes might come from ACM. I'd be curious to hear more from him about yield and distribution, and whether he thinks that traditional farming, tailored to location, can really replace the modern industrialized farming which - with some reason - he doesn't trust.
I was of two minds about how to rate this book - three stars for forcing me to admit that I"m part of the problem, or four stars for being unapologetically small-c conservative and traditional in an era either doesn't recognize the value of that, or thinks that artisanal cheese counts. I went with four. ...more